In honor of International Women’s Day we’ve gathered 10 stories of women who have changed the world with their expertise. It goes without saying that this doesn’t even come close to a comprehensive list because, well, we’d be here forever. These women are powerful examples of leading, creating, and changing the world. Here are some of our favorite game changers:

 

1. Laura Hillenbrand
Photo: Washington Post

Photo: Washington Post

We know and love the amazing stories of Unbroken and Seabiscuit because of Hillenbrand’s writing. What many don’t know is that Lauara has successfully brought these amazing stories to life while battling Chronic Fatigue Syndrome- a disease that at times has left her bedridden.

Hillenbrand is a woman who inspires us to commit more time to our dreams, by living with incredible focus and dedication to the hard work it takes to accomplish amazing things.

2. JK Rowling

For anyone who’s experienced failure, JK Rowling is an example of following your own path to success and believing in yourself.

Rowling was living off welfare as a single mother, writing all day in a coffee shop with her baby by her side, before she brought to life some of the most beloved books of the century. JK Rowling’s success exploded to make her the richest author in the world.

What advice does JK Rowling have for the rest of us? We all carry magic. In a Harvard commencement speech she said:

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

Here’s how failure helped guide her:

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3. Oprah Winfrey

A woman who needs no introduction. Oprah rose out of poverty in rural Mississippi, she teaches us to work hard and believe in our personal callings- here’s what she has to say about offering our personal callings to others:

Oprah-Winferey-Quote

4. Zhou Qunfei

Zhou is the world’s richest self-made woman. While not fond of interviews, the details of her personal story are quite remarkable. Zhou worked long hours in a factory in China making $1 a day, work she didn’t enjoy. After 3 months she quit and penned her boss a letter of resignation stating her complaints with long hours, yet also writing about how grateful she was to have the job and her desire to have an opportunity to learn more.

Her boss was so impressed that he gave her a promotion- which gave her the step up to start the leading glass screen production company, Lens Technology.

Her cousin has this to say about her: “We call women like her ‘ba de man’ which means a person who dares to do what others are afraid to do”

Zhou’s example shows us how to speak up, seek opportunity, and dare to do great things.

5A. Kat Archibald

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We can’t make a list of women who inspire us and not include one of our own at Degreed. Kat is our Chief Product Officer, a leader in the community, a mom, a snowboarder, and really good at her job. Kat helps lead us on the path to accomplishing our mission, listen here for her take on diversity, growth and opening up opportunities for women.

5B: All women at Degreed

Here’s a snapshot of some of our amazing women:

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6. Temple Grandin

Temple has autism, and successfully turned what could be perceived as a weakness into a strength. By using her unique ability to understand animals to help her, Temple became one of the world’s most respected advocates for the humane treatment of livestock. Grandin sees the world differently, and though she struggles with communication she has an extraordinary visually gifted mind that helped her be extremely successful in turning her passion into her life’s work.

Temple-Grandin-600x400 (1)

Temple’s autism doesn’t define her, and your weaknesses shouldn’t either.

7. Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr pioneered the idea of a Secret Communication System through frequency hopping- the idea was so groundbreaking that many patents piggy backed from it, making GPS and Bluetooth possible. Hedy wasn’t merely an inventive genius, she was also an actress and was often called “the most beautiful woman in the world”

Hedy shows us we can be whatever we want to be, we don’t have to fit a particular mold.

8. Diana Nyad

At the age of 64, Diana Nyad stumbled out of the ocean onto the beach of Key West, Florida after a grueling world record 53-hour swim. Surrounded by her team, fans and press, her first words were: “You can chase your dreams at any age, you’re never too old.”

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It took Diana 4 years and 4 failed attempts until she completed her goal of swimming 110 miles from Cuba to Florida. You can accomplish hard things too. Here are the 3 things Diana has to say about accomplishing dreams. 

9. Harriet Tubman

Champion of the underground railroad, Tubman led roughly 13 trips to rescue family and friends from slavery. After arriving in the free state of Pennsylvania, Harriet had the difficult choice to make: stay free and start a new life, or risk losing it all by going back to save her family and friends? She chose the latter.

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Harriet was a firm but loving leader who knew what needed to be done and executed it with precision. Her decisions combined with her skills and leadership qualities led to the freedom of roughly 70 slaves via the Underground Railroad.

All the women on this list have taught us important lessons about how to live, create, lead and change the world. We salute all women and want to hear about the ones you look up to, tweet us at @degreed to help us celebrate International Women’s Day!

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Expertise takes imbalance

 

The year was 1938. America was still suffering in the Great Depression. Hitler was gearing up for war. Amidst all that, on November 1, Franklin D. Roosevelt took a break from the stresses of running a nation and tuned into a radio broadcast with 40 million other listeners. War Admiral, a dominant race horse and the previous year’s Triple Crown winner, was lined up next to a small but determined horse named Seabiscuit. It was a match race. A one-on-one duel. Seabiscuit was far and away the underdog. But everyone loves an underdog story. Winning the race by four lengths, Seabiscuit sealed his fate as an American legend.

In the same ink-smeared newspapers that chronicled the races of Seabiscuit, stories of a man who was poised to become an American legend in his own regard peppered the sports pages. In the late thirties, the four minute mile had not yet been achieved. In fact, that barrier wouldn’t be broken until 1954. Up until World War II, Louis Zamperini, an Italian kid from Torrance, California, was among the favorites to break the four-minute barrier. In fact, he ran a 4:08 in college, which stood as a collegiate record for 15 years. But Zamperini would never get the chance to beat that mark. After enlisting in the Army Air Corps, he was in a plane crash, which became the start of a harrowing story of survival at sea and in Japanese POW camps.

Many of us know these amazing stories because of the writing of Laura Hillenbrand in both novels Seabiscuit and Unbroken. However, as the story of Seabiscuit filled us with awe and the story of Zamperini took us on an unfathomable journey, the remarkable story of the woman behind the pen has gone mostly unnoticed.

An Unfortunate Disease

CFS or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, as explained by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, is characterized by debilitating fatigue that can be triggered by minimal activity. People with severe CFS find it all but impossible to do even the most basic of everyday tasks. Hillenbrand seemed to have the odds stacked against her. At one time while in the process of writing Unbroken, she suffered a particularly bad spell of the disease. Things digressed to the point that she was unable to leave her home for two years. Some months she never left her bedroom.

Hillenbrand didn’t always suffer from CFS. She was basically blindsided by it at the age of 19. Too weak to continue attending her college classes, she moved in with her mother in Maryland. So little was known about the disease at the time, doctors didn’t believe her when she would explain her symptoms. They tried to convince her it was all in her mind or that it was an eating disorder. Even her own mother was skeptical. Eventually she was well enough to move to Chicago with her then boyfriend, but on a trip back to Maryland to visit her mother, she collapsed. Unable to regain enough physical strength to fly back home, she was forced to make her permanent home in nearby Washington D.C. 

Unparalleled Success

Just how good is Laura Hillenbrand? Well when you stop and think about it, how does anyone write in so much detail about places they have never been? Journalists get their stories by going on location to survey the surroundings and talk to the people involved. Hillenbrand never had that opportunity. Everything she did was via phone or email. She never even met Zamperini in person until after Unbroken was published, which took her almost ten years. Zamperini didn’t even know she was sick for the first seven years she interviewed him. Her focus was on the story.

Hillenbrand is also exceptionally adept at research. When she first reached out to Zamperini about writing Unbroken, he shrugged her off. He was just about finished writing his own memoir. He didn’t think there was anything left to cover. On top of that, there were already three other books written that told Zamperini’s remarkable story. But Hillenbrand was relentless, and Zamperini eventually relented. For the next decade, Hillenbrand dug up a trove of new information. So much so that Zamperini admitted it got to the point where he would call her and ask what happened to him in certain prison camps.

Both Seabiscuit and Unbroken have become enormous successes. Combined the two books have sold more than 10 million copies. Unbroken, her most recent success, was on the New York Time’s best-seller list for 185 weeks straight. To put it in perspective, only three other books have outdone that. In a New York Times article, Sallye Leventhal, who is one of the book buyers for Barnes & Noble, had this to say about Hillenbrand’s success, “There are other phenomenal best sellers, but not this phenomenal. Not with this velocity, year after year after year.”

Focus and Balance

Laura Hillenbrand is a fascinating example of focus. In the depths of painful and incapacitating illness, she somehow mustered the physical strength (some days it was all she could do to pick up a pen) and the mental perseverance to complete two incredible works of art.

As I ponder on Hillenbrand’s story, I can’t help but think about the focus it must have taken to do what she did. CFS was literally keeping her bedridden, yet her focus was on something bigger than herself, something she excelled at that helped her escape the pains of her disease.

In talking about focus, I think I also need to bring up balance. I’m not entirely sold on the notion of having balance in life. At least not all the time. When things are balanced, you’re not giving your all to anything. Everything gets an equal amount of attention, but nothing gets your full attention. In many circumstances, I think there is nothing wrong with that. However, there are instances where balance could be synonymous with complacent. You can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you want to become an expert at something, you’re going to have to throw your life off balance. You’re going to have to focus on the thing that you want to be great at. You can’t give less than your full attention to something and expect to excel.

For instance, I would very much love to become a master woodworker or gain expertise in wilderness survival. But at this point in my life, I’m focused on excelling in writing. That means that the shelves and desk that I want to build sit undone as I spend my nights writing and researching.

I’ll be the first to admit that focusing on one thing when you enjoy many things—whether you choose to, or like Laura Hillenbrand are forced to—is not easy. But no one ever said becoming an expert would be easy.

 

Tweet me at @bradensthompson, and follow me on Degreed here. Click the button below to get credit for reading this article.

Career Advice From Self Made Billionaires

The first time I truly grasped the magnitude of a billion was while reading Tony Robbins’ book, Money: Master the Game. He explains a billion relative to time. One million seconds is roughly 12 days. And how about one billion seconds? That’s 32 YEARS. The difference between a millionaire and a billionaire is massive. So I think it’s safe to say that becoming a self-made billionaire is quite an impressive feat. The following career advice comes from six individuals who rose up out of less-than-stellar conditions and into incredible wealth.

John Paul DeJoria

First up we have Mr. John Paul DeJoria. This guy didn’t just stop after his first billion-dollar success, he took things a step further and built a second billion-dollar company. As a child DeJoria sold Christmas cards and newspapers to help support his family, but he eventually ended up living in foster care. Later in life he had to live in his car while he went door-to-door selling his shampoo products. Not only did he grow that little business into the billion-dollar Paul Mitchell brand, he also started Patron Tequila—another billion-dollar endeavor.

As a man who began his career doing door-to-door sales, it’s unsurprising that a lot of what DeJoria has to say is about powering through rejection. The following piece of career advice in particular is a solid representation of the determination it took for him to build something great through great adversity.

“You’re going to run across a lot of rejection. Be prepared for the rejection. No matter how bad it is don’t let it overcome you and influence you—keep on going towards what you want to do–no matter what… You need to be as enthusiastic about door number one-hundred as door number one.”

One other piece of advice from DeJoria that I thought was worth sharing has to do with the kind of work that it takes to become successful.

“The difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people do all the things the unsuccessful people don’t want to do.”

Career Advice Self-Made-Billionaire-John-DeJoria

 

J.K. Rowling

First things first, I have to admit that I’m not much of a Harry Potter fan. Though I do respect the talent of Rowling. For those of you diehard fans, you probably know everything there is to know about her. But for those who don’t know everything, Rowling had some pretty rough patches on her way to fame and fortune. At one point she was living off welfare as a single mother writing all day in a coffee shop with her baby by her side. I can’t imagine that sitting in that coffee shop she ever imagined she’d become the richest author in the world.

So what career advice does Rowling have for us? The following quotes come from a commencement speech she gave at Harvard in 2008. Like DeJoria, she has some enlightening thoughts on failure, and she also believes in the power of imagination.

“Failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

“I am not going to stand here and tell you that failure is fun. That period of my life was a dark one, and I had no idea that there was going to be what the press has since represented as a kind of fairy tale resolution.”

“We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better.”

Career Advice Self-Made-Billionaire-JK-Rowling

 

Howard Schultz

If you enjoy pumpkin spice in any kind of hot beverage, you’ve probably been to a Starbucks recently. The multibillion-dollar company has a storefront on seemingly every street corner in America. But for Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, things weren’t always so good. As a child, Schultz didn’t have a lot of money. Because of his predicament, he felt a strong desire to prove he could become successful in spite of his limited resources. Schultz now has a keen understanding of what a business needs in order to grow. Here are a couple thought-provoking snippets of advice from Schultz on authenticity and conviction.

“In this ever-changing society, the most powerful and enduring brands are built from the heart. They are real and sustainable. Their foundations are stronger because they are built with the strength of the human spirit, not an ad campaign. The companies that are lasting are those that are authentic.”

“There are moments in our lives when we summon the courage to make choices that go against reason, against common sense and the wise counsel of people we trust. But we lean forward nonetheless because, despite all risks and rational argument, we believe that the path we are choosing is the right and best thing to do. We refuse to be bystanders, even if we do not know exactly where our actions will lead.”

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“This is the kind of passionate conviction that sparks romances, wins battles, and drives people to pursue dreams others wouldn’t dare. Belief in ourselves and in what is right catapults us over hurdles, and our lives unfold. ‘Life is a sum of all your choices,’ wrote Albert Camus. Large or small, our actions forge our futures and hopefully inspire others along the way.”

 

Zhou Qunfei

According to a New York Times article Zhou Qunfei is the world’s richest self-made woman. Zhou’s story is quite remarkable. Apparently she isn’t fond of interviews so particular pieces of career advice from her are hard to come by. However, within the details of her rags-to-riches story are beautiful examples from which we can learn about success.

As a young person, Zhou worked long hours in a factory in Shenzhen, China. She made the equivalent of about $1 a day. “I didn’t enjoy it,” she says in the NY Times article. After just three months she had to quit. But Zhou didn’t quit in a way most of us would. She penned her boss a letter of resignation. In the letter she stated her complaints regarding the long hours. But she also wrote about how grateful she was to have had the job, and that she wanted the opportunity to learn more.

When her boss read the letter, he was so impressed that he gave her a promotion and the opportunity to do other work in the factory. That experience gave her the step up she needed to start the leading glass screen production company, Lens Technology. Chances are pretty good that the glass screen you are reading this blog post on was made by Zhou’s company.

When it comes to Zhou’s demeanor, her cousin has this to say about her: “In the Hunan language, we call women like her ‘ba de man,’ which means a person who dares to do what others are afraid to do.”

In addition to being daring, Zhou is meticulous and exact in her work. She often walks the factory floor to make sure everything is in order. She’ll step in and work the most menial jobs just to make sure the process is seamless and optimally effective. This level of detail stems from her childhood. “My father had lost his eyesight, so if we placed something somewhere, it had to be in the right spot, exactly, or something could go wrong. That’s the attention to detail I demand at the workplace.”

 

Lloyd Blankfein

Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs, came out of the projects in east Brooklyn. His father was a postal worker and his mother a receptionist. Blankfein sold sodas at Yankees games. It took a ton of work, but Blankfein eventually rose out of poverty to the top of Wall Street.

In a video for the Goldman Sachs summer interns in 2013, Blankfein gave some solid career advice on how to rise to the top no matter what cards you’re dealt.

“By the way…there are advantages to growing up in a place with a lot of access to a lot of privileges and there are burdens to that also. And the burdens of that are the insecurity that comes from having had things more easily….Whoever you are, wherever you are stationed, these are the cards you got dealt. You can’t spend your time wringing your hands about it. You play the cards you have. You accept the burdens in the context of which you came from and enjoy the privileges and don’t be guilty and either one of them.”

Here are two more powerful pieces of advice from Blankfein that have to do with accepting failure and building relationships.

“If you’re on a beach and a tsunami hits, you’ll drown whether you’re a small child or an Olympic swimmer. Some things will go bad no matter how good you are.”

“You have to, in your own life, get people to want to work with you and want to help you. The organizational chart, in my opinion, means very little. I need my bosses’ goodwill, but I need the goodwill of my subordinates even more.”

Career Advice-From-Self-Made-Billionaires

 

Oprah Winfrey

When I was first researching people for this article, I had no idea that Oprah came out of poverty. All I really knew about her up to this point was that my mom used to fold laundry while watching her show when I was a kid, and in December the audience got all of her favorite things.

What I didn’t know was that she grew up in rural Mississippi wearing clothes her grandmother made out of potato sacks. On top of that, she had to deal with unimaginable emotional trauma from sexual abuse. Now a billionaire media mogul, Oprah’s work has influenced the lives of millions of people.

The following are just a few of the many pieces of advice she has for success and happiness. From courage to personal responsibility, she touches on some powerful stuff.

“I’ve come to believe that each of us has a personal calling that’s as unique as a fingerprint – and that the best way to succeed is to discover what you love and then find a way to offer it to others in the form of service, working hard, and also allowing the energy of the universe to lead you.

Career Advice from Billionaires

“You get in life what you have the courage to ask for.”

“The reason I’ve been able to be so financially successful is my focus has never, ever for one minute been money.”

“I don’t think of myself as a poor deprived ghetto girl who made good. I think of myself as somebody who, from an early age, knew I was responsible for myself, and I had to make good.”

 

I hope you found at least one piece of advice that you can take to heart and apply in your life. I know I have. Let me know what you liked the most. Tweet me at @bradensthompson, and follow me on Degreed here. Click the button below to get credit for reading this article.

 

Distance running has seen a surge in interest over the last few years. So much so that even as a self-proclaimed non-runner, I jumped on the bandwagon and ran a marathon. Previous to my training, I had never run more than the three-miles I was required to run in high school. But after months of training, I finally understood why so many people do distance running: it was strangely addicting and exhilarating. There is an undeniable sense of freedom that comes as you cover miles and miles of ground with nothing propelling you but your own two feet.

Recently I learned about a Czech man who had what is widely believed to be the greatest distance running performance at an Olympic Games. In 1940, as World War II was just getting started, Emil Zatopek completed his first run. He was 18 years old and had never run any distance before. The shoe company he worked for was sponsoring a 1500 meter run and he was convinced to race. Out of 100 participants, Zatopek came in 2nd. That’s when he realized he might have some hidden potential worth looking into.

As it turns out, Zatopek wasn’t just good at running; he was slowly becoming one of the best. By 1948 he had broken many Czech long-distance records and even had a gold medal in the 10,000m from the London Olympics under his belt.

Preparing for Greatness

The Triple Crown in horse racing is one of the most elusive accomplishments in all of sport. You have to win three races in the span of just five weeks. And you have to race against fresh horses, horses that only care about one thing: taking down potential Triple Crown winners. Until this year, no horse and jockey had achieved the goal for over 30 years. In fact, since 1919, only 12 horses have ever done it.

In 1952, Zatopek achieved a triple crown of sorts that is so rare, to this day he is still the only person to have accomplished the feat.

But to get to the Olymics, Zatopek had a relentless training regimen. In fact, he pioneered the use of interval training, which is widely used today. At the time, people thought he was crazy.

“Everyone said, ‘Emil, you are a fool!’ But when I first won the European Championship, they said: ‘Emil you are a genius!”

His workouts were brutal. One of his favorites was to do fifty laps on a track with half lap jogs sprinkled in between for rest. If you can call that rest… He was basically sprinting a half marathon one lap at a time.

Zatopek was all grit and no grace. He became known for his “ugly” running style. He put everything he had into it, which you could easily tell by looking at his face when he ran.

Emil_Zatopek-Running-Marathon

He looked like he was suffering through horrible pain, but he usually found a way to grind out a win, so he didn’t care what he looked like.

“I shall learn to have a better style once they start judging races according to their beauty. So long as it’s a question of speed, then my attention will be directed to seeing how fast I can cover the ground.”

The Helsinki Olympics

“I was unable to walk for a whole week after that, so much did the race take out of me. But it was the most pleasant exhaustion I have ever known.” -Emil Zatopek on his marathon win at Helsinki

All of Zatopek’s ugly running and interval training led up to three incredible performances at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

His first race of the games was his bread and butter, the 10,000m. After all, he was the returning gold medalist from the previous Olympics. Just as many expected Zatopek took the 10,000m without much trouble. He even set an Olympic record while he was at it.

A few days later, he took on the 5,000m. This race gave Zatopek a little more trouble. He was not the favorite in the event and it all came down to the last 150 meters. Zatopek had four runners to beat in that span. When all was said and done, Zatopek had a second gold and another Olympic record to boot.

With two golds under his belt, Zatopek was feeling unstoppable. So much so, he decided to enter the marathon. But Zatopek had never run a marathon. His first crack at the distance was going to be on one of the biggest stages in the sport after already giving his all in two other races.

The man to beat in the marathon was Jim Peters, who had set the world record in the distance just six weeks prior. Since Zatopek had never run a marathon, he had no idea how to pace himself. Unafraid of appearing weak and incompetent, Zatopek asked Peters mid-run if the blistering pace they were already running was too fast. Peters thought he could tire out the inexperienced runner and told him the pace was actually too slow. Believing the words of the world record holder, Zatopek adjusted his pace. Peters would eventually collapse out of the race trying to keep up with Zatopek. Zatopek won by an astonishing margin of two and a half minutes.

Zatopek’s triple gold in the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon has yet to be matched.

As further proof of the magnitude of his feat, the International Olympic Committee put up a statue of Emil Zatopek at the Olympic Museum in Switzerland. He is the only athlete to have such an honor.

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“If you want to run, run a mile. If you want to experience a different life, run a marathon.” -Emil Zatopek

The Work

Though Zatopek may have had some natural talent, it was ultimately his grueling dedication to becoming better that gave him a championship edge. Zatopek is a prime example of what it takes to become the best. It takes a lot of grueling work that might look “ugly” from the outside, but in the end, it’s hard work (not just natural talent), that gives way to great victories.

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Photo source: Deutsche Fotothek

Strength-from-weakness

Temple Grandin is an expert on animal science who works at Colorado State University. She single handedly changed the way cows are treated in the livestock industry. Grandin is the author of multiple books and the subject of an Emmy Award winning HBO film. And that’s just a small part of her many accomplishments. Oh ya, and did I mention she is autistic?

How has Grandin been so influential even though she suffers from great mental and social difficulties? She uses her difficulties as an advantage.

The Strength of the Underdog

In his most recent book, David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell posits that oftentimes the weaknesses that make us an underdog are exactly what give us an advantage to overcome great odds . For example, in the biblical story of David and Goliath, David’s weakness in the fight against Goliath was that he was quite small.

However, David was a professional with his sling. How good was he? It is said that a stone fired from his sling would basically fire with the same force as a bullet from a .45 caliber pistol. On the other side, the thing that made Goliath so powerful was his size. However, that’s also what made him weak. He most likely suffered from acromegaly, which diminished his eyesight. Everyone assumed David would fight Goliath in hand-to-hand combat. But why would he do that if he could stay far away and still get the job done?

When David stepped in to the fight, he wasn’t an underdog at all.

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Grandin’s story is not much different. Even she understood that it was her difficulties with autism that gave her the unique ability to understand animals, which helped her become one of the world’s most respected advocates for the humane treatment of livestock.

In an article for Medscape, Grandin was asked if she would have achieved what she did if she were not autistic.

“I don’t think so, because there was a motivation that I had that a nonautistic person doesn’t have. And I had a visualization skill that goes beyond what most people have. When I designed a piece of equipment, I could actually test-run it in my head like these virtual-reality computer programs.”

Because Grandin had autism, she saw the world differently. Though she struggled with communication and found socializing extremely awkward and dull, she had an extraordinary visually gifted mind. She could visualize outcomes and circumstances with incredible detail.

Even though she had this great ability, convincing the male-dominated livestock industry to listen to her took some work. Grandin was persistent, and today more than half the cattle in North America are raised and processed more humanely because of systems she designed.

Despite all that she has done, Grandin doesn’t see herself as an anomaly. She believes autism shouldn’t define people.

“I am different, not less.” – Temple Grandin

Strength

 

Don’t Get Comfortable

Grandin also recognizes that she got where she is today because she got outside of her comfort zone, which is also an important key in turning a weakness into a strength.

In regards to her upbringing in a time when autism was far less understood than it is today, Grandin had the following to say:

“I’ve seen too much coddling. Mother was always saying, ‘You’re going to have to learn how to go in the store and talk to the clerks yourself.’ And I was scared to death. I’m seeing too many kids who actually are a lot milder than I was who don’t know how to walk into McDonald’s and order a hamburger.”

Strength-Temple-Grandin

Photo By Steve Jurvetson

Grandin’s mother knew her daughter had more potential than the world and even medical professionals at the time believed. She wasn’t going to let her daughter grow up comfortable and thus incapable of doing everyday tasks. That’s the mindset that pushed Grandin through years of school to get a doctoral degree in animal science and what helped her become a leader in the push for the rights of persons with autism.

Grandin’s story prompts me to look deep within myself. What weaknesses do I have that I have not yet looked at as strengths? Many of the world’s greatest accomplishments have come from people like Grandin who looked at things differently because of their “weakness.” The prospect of finding new strengths within my weaknesses is thrilling! There’s always more to life than meets the eye.

 

Ben-Franklin

We all know about the man who flew his kite in a lightning storm… or if that doesn’t ring a bell, how about the man who’s face is on the currency we all want in non-sequential, unmarked bills in our briefcases? Even if you don’t know anything about Benjamin Franklin, just knowing his face is on the hundred-dollar bill should give you a pretty good idea that he was somewhat of an important person.

The Man 

Benjamin Franklin had a curious and devoted nature that led to many discoveries in electricity and countless inventions ranging from bifocals to swim fins. I want to share the story of one of his many inventions, the Franklin stove, to give you a glimpse at the kind of person Franklin was.

The Franklin stove was a wonderful upgrade to the open fireplaces most people were using to heat their homes in the 1700’s. Franklin’s stove produced more heat and less smoke. In addition, the stove was made of cast iron so heat would absorb into the metal and radiate even after the fire had gone out. One day Franklin was approached by a man who wanted to help him patent the idea. Franklin would be the exclusive owner of the invention. But like a title straight from an Upworthy post, what happened next was truly inspiring. Franklin said no, citing a principle that has “ever weigh’d with [him].”

“As we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”

Ben Franklin felt that his fireplace was an invention that should be shared freely with everyone. It saved people money and provided a better standard of living. He didn’t care about the money; he cared about the good it did for his fellow men.

The Goal

As is evident in the story of the Franklin stove, Benjamin Franklin was dedicated to being the best he could be. In fact, from the young age of 20, Franklin had his sights set on moral perfection. In order to reach his goal, Franklin carried around a small notebook. In his notebook was a chart with 13 virtues in it. Franklin concluded that if he could master those 13 virtues, he would attain moral perfection.

“I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time.”

 

The 13 virtues Ben Franklin established are as follows:

Infographic_Ben-Franklin

Franklin carried his notebook around with him everywhere. Inside the notebook he had a chart with a line for each of the 13 virtues. Whenever he messed up, he would put a dot next to that virtue to signify that he had not accomplished his goal for the day. The idea was to have the least amount of dots—ideally zero—at the end of each day.

He even took things further by rotating which virtue was at the top of the chart. Each week the virtue at the top would be the one he was most focused on. After 13 weeks he would start over and continue his quest for perfection.

But alas, as you might have guessed,  Ben Franklin never did achieve moral perfection.

“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.

The Plan

History is full of successful people who advocate the practice of keeping a journal of some kind. There is power in being accountable to ourselves and hashing out our thoughts. Though Franklin used a physical notebook, we live in a day and age run by computers, and many people find it more convenient to journal digitally. Enter Degreed.

I have been quite inspired by Franklin’s devotion to becoming better. I’m all about that ‘being a happier person’ stuff. There is much to learn regarding moral perfection and a lot of it is available on the Internet. So I have created a Moral Perfection Pathway over at Degreed.com. I know I won’t be as diligent as Ben Franklin was, but this is something I believe in, and I will continue to update and improve the pathway as I find more worthwhile materials.

If you have any ideas for what I can add to my pathway shoot me a tweet or message me on Degreed!

Also, S/O to Art of Manliness for opening my eyes to Benjamin Franklin’s story.

Diana-Nyad-Advice

 

 

These were the 3 things uttered from the swollen mouth of 64-year old Diana Nyad as she stumbled out of the ocean and into the record books after a grueling 53-hour swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013.

The span between Cuba and Florida is an elusive stretch of water: 110 miles through the home sharks, the volatile Gulf Stream, and the most venomous creature in the ocean, the box jellyfish… Continue reading to find out how Diana Nyad and her team accomplished her amazing swim.

 

Photo source: DianaNyad.com

 

Never, Ever Give Up

“You can chase your dreams at any age; you’re never too old.”

Those were the words uttered from the swollen mouth of 64-year old Diana Nyad as she stumbled out of the ocean and into the record books after a grueling 53-hour swim in 2013.

The span between Cuba and Florida is an elusive stretch of water: 110 miles through the home sharks, the volatile Gulf Stream, and the most venomous creature in the ocean, the box jellyfish. No wonder those 110 miles have sent the greatest swimmers in the world packing since 1950. It wasn’t until 1997 that Susie Maroney finally made it from shore to shore. But even then, the accomplishment came with an asterisk: she did it with the safety of a shark cage.

Fast forward to 2010. Diana Nyad was determined to do Susie one better: she wanted to be the first to complete the swim without a cage.

Record-Breaking Beginnings

In 1978, Nyad was at the top of her game. Three years earlier she broke the record for the fastest swim around Manhattan Island by almost a full hour. Now she was going for the elusive Cuba to Florida swim. Though she swam inside the safety of a shark cage, the barreling waves and jellyfish stings became too much. Her team realized it was a lost cause and got her out of the water.

Then, just a year later, at the age of 30, she broke the open-ocean world record (102 miles) by swimming from the Bahamas to Florida. And she did it without a shark cage. After securing that major accomplishment, she decided to hang up her swim cap (or whatever you do with swim caps). Nyad had officially retired from swimming.

Just Keep Swimming

 It wasn’t until her mother died almost 30 years later—shortly before Nyad’s 60th birthday—that she began to reevaluate her life goals. She didn’t want to accept that her life had already been summed up. That’s when she decided to awaken her long-dormant dream of swimming from Cuba to Florida.

After intense training, Nyad was ready to go for broke. In 2011 her dream was cut short after just 29 hours in the water. A severe asthma attack, chills, and dehydration ultimately became too much to push through. She thought her dream was over. Little did she know she would still have to give it three more tries.

Her next attempt was only six weeks later. Things seemed to be going better than they had previously until she felt a pain like she was “dipped in hot burning oil,” and her “body [was] in flames.” A swarm of the deadly box jellyfish had attacked her. An EMT from her team jumped in to help but got stung in the process and had to get back in the boat. After what had to be an unbelievably excruciating experience treading water until the pain dissipated enough to endure, she continued swimming. Not long after, she was attacked again. At this point, she was on the verge of losing her life. The crew had to pull her from the water in order to save her.

Not deterred in the least, Nyad set out again a year later. She wasn’t going to lose to a jellyfish. This time she wore a protective mask, but the jellyfish again proved to be a formidable foe. The tentacles had found the only exposed spot on her face, her mouth. Still able to swim, Nyad pushed on. However, during this attempt, the heavens proved to be the most problematic. A massive storm circled overhead and churned the ocean waters. Nyad was stubborn and opted to continue through the storm. It wasn’t until lightning threatened the safety of her crew that she relented and got in the boat.

Fifth Time’s The Charm

In spite of endurance experts, neurologists, and even her own crew telling her it was impossible, Nyad stayed focused. She was not going to be conquered again.

She enlisted the help of the leading expert in box jellyfish and created a mask that would protect her entire face. The mask had a mouthpiece with two bite plates to defend her mouth from jellyfish tentacles. However, the mouthpiece wasn’t perfect, and she swallowed a lot of ocean water because of it. The salt made her throat swell and upset her stomach causing her to vomit. Which is pretty annoying when you’re trying to swim 110 miles, but at least it was better than dying from jellyfish stings.

At night, the crew couldn’t use lights because light attracts sharks and jellyfish. In the pitch black of night, Nyad’s crew relied only on the sound of her arms slapping the water to know she was still there. In those lonely, dark hours, she would sing songs to herself to keep her mind occupied.

Nyad was in the water for 53 hours straight. When she finally reached the shore, physically exhausted and elated at finally realizing her goal, she had three things to say to the crowd that had gathered:

1. Never, ever give up.
2. You can chase your dreams at any age; you’re never too old.
3. It looks like the most solitary endeavor in the world, but it’s a team.

Diana-Nyad-Advice

Nyad’s words are a fresh reminder that no hour of our life should be wasted, and that no one can accomplish anything great alone.

In a TEDWomen talk from 2013, Nyad had the following to say about her accomplishment:

“It wasn’t so much about the athletic accomplishment. It wasn’t the ego of ‘I want to be the first,’ that’s always there and it’s undeniable. It was deeper. It was ‘how much life is there left?’ Let’s face it; we’re all on a one-way street. What are we going to do as we go forward to have no regrets looking back?”

What are you going to do to move forward with no regrets?

Tweet Braden your goals and how you plan to accomplish your dreams. You just learned about personal development, get credit on your Degreed profile.

Photo Credit: DianaNyad.com

Humble beginnings, unflinching determination, and a dog named Butkus.

Most people have seen the 1976 film, Rocky—which took home three Academy Awards including best picture. Even if you haven’t seen it, it’s likely you have seen at least one of the myriad training montages mimicking the original montage from the film. Though the film has resonated with millions of people, the story of the man behind it all, Sylvester Stallone, is just as moving.

While enduring a rough childhood with his younger brother Frank, Stallone found himself in a high school for troubled youth. After that he bounced around to two different colleges and eventually dropped out to pursue acting.

As is the fate of many aspiring actors, Stallone had a rough time landing anything substantial. To support himself while he pursued his dream, he bounced around doing odd jobs and even took a role in an adult film.

In 1974 he had a small stroke of luck co-starring in The Lords of Flatbush. However, the film wasn’t much of a success, and Stallone became frustrated by his seemingly endless stream of rejections. Fueled by his frustration and the fact that he was teetering on the edge of poverty, Stallone decided to focus more of his time on writing screenplays.

It was during this time that Stallone came up with the concept for Rocky. In 1975, lowly boxer, Chuck Wepner, stepped into the ring with The Greatest, Muhammad Ali. Wepner was physically outmatched but mentally prepared. Wepner took hit after hit for all 15 rounds—ultimately succumbing to a TKO in the final round. Stallone watched the whole fight play out. He was mesmerized and inspired by Wepner’s determination.

”I was watching the fight in a movie theater, and I said to myself, ‘Let’s talk about stifled ambition and broken dreams and people who sit on the curb looking at their dreams go down the drain.’ I thought about it for a month. That’s what I call my inspiration stage. Then I let it incubate for 10 months.”

After his self-appointed incubation stage, Stallone got to work. Stallone wrote the entire first draft of the Rocky screenplay in just 3 1/2 days.

“I’d get up at 6 A.M. and write it by hand, with a Bic pen on lined notebook sheets of paper. Then my wife, Sasha, would type it. She kept saying, ‘You’ve gotta do it, you’ve gotta do it. Push it, Sly, go for broke.”’

Once his writing was finished, Stallone began shopping his new screenplay around. He knew he had a hot story when he began fielding six-figure offers.

He turned the first offer down because the producers wanted a big-name actor to play the role. Stallone was adamant about playing the role of Rocky, and to him not being able to star in his film was a deal breaker. It was his way or bust.

To give a little depth into the magnitude of his decision, at the time his wife was pregnant, and he had next to nothing in the bank. Eventually he was offered up to $265,000—still with the caveat that he couldn’t play the lead.

He turned that down too.

While he waited for a producer that would work with him, he began to make sacrifices in other areas of his life. In what had to be one his lowest points, Stallone sold his bullmastiff, Butkus, to a perfect stranger. He tied the dog up at a store with a sign that said “100 bucks”. He got $50 for him.

Ironically, Stallone finally sold the screenplay not a week later to two producers who would let him star in the film. He sold it for much less than he had been offered before, but he got a 10% stake in the earnings. He immediately tracked down the guy who bought his dog. The guy gave him the business and had no intention of selling the dog back. Stallone eventually had to pay $3000 to get ol’ Butkus back. Fun fact: both Butkus and the guy who almost didn’t sell the dog back appeared in the film.

Looking back, Stallone says he never would have settled for the money without the leading role:

”I never would have sold it. I told my wife that I’d rather bury it in the back yard and let the caterpillars play ‘Rocky.’ I would have hated myself for selling out, the way we hate most people for selling out. My wife agreed, and said she’d be willing to move to a trailer in the middle of a swamp if need be.”

Though the movie was shot in 28 days with a budget of only $1 million, the film brought in over $117 million in the domestic box office. From his humble beginnings to his first big hit, Stallone went on to become the only man alive with a No. 1 box-office hit in five consecutive decades.

Stallone had a dream and an unyielding desire to achieve it. Unrelenting in his determination not to sell out, he eventually found himself at the top of Hollywood. You can tell a lot about a person who can turn down a large sum of money while struggling to even put food on the table. But Stallone knew he was more than just a writer: he was a star.

And the moral of the story, in the words of Stallone himself (speaking on the film in an interview from 1976) is:

“If nothing else comes out of that film in the way of awards and accolades, it will still show that an unknown quantity, a totally unmarketable person, can produce a diamond in the rough, a gem.

 

Catch Braden on Twitter. You just learned about pop culture and personal growth, get credit for it on Degreed.

The following is a tale that some have called one of the most daring rides in history. While Paul Revere’s midnight ride is better known thanks to the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Jack Jouett’s midnight ride was absolutely more difficult. Jouett’s story is not only a story of being in the right place at the right time but also a story of taking action.

We can’t will ourselves into situations like Jouett’s, where we are in the right place at the right time. But if and when we do find ourselves in those circumstances, we must make sure we have sufficiently prepared ourselves so that we don’t just sit by idly, afraid that we might fail if we try. Jack Jouett’s experience is a refreshing example of someone with great determination who was ready to act when it mattered most.

The Backstory

Jack Jouett was a captain in the Virginia militia stationed in the Charlottesville area. On the night of June 3, 1781, Jouett was sleeping soundly on the lawn in front of the Cuckoo Tavern. Sometime late that night, the rustle of horsemen drew him out of his slumber. He awoke to find a hefty unit of White Coats: a notorious regiment of British Dragoons led by Colonel Banastre Tarleton. Right time, right place.

Quick Thinking

Jouett was an astute son of a gun, and he quickly anticipated the intentions of the White Coats. Jouett knew that Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry and a slew of other notorious rebels were meeting just 40 miles up the road in Charlottesville at the Virginia General Assembly. At the time, Virginia hadn’t seen much in the way of battle, so most of the able-bodied men were up north with General George Washington. The remaining men in Virginia only added up to a small militia who were not sufficiently equipped to put up a fight against the White Coats.

Jouett knew that if he didn’t take charge and outpace the White Coats to the General Assembly, Tarleton and his men would have an easy victory in Charlottesville. The ride would be extremely risky and very likely impossible.

When Paul Revere mounted his horse in Boston headed toward Lexington, he had roughly 10-12 miles ahead of him on established roads. Jouett had to ride four-times the distance of Revere and he had to do it on rough, Virginia back roads! Assuming Tarleton had advance scouts on the main road to Charlottesville, Jouett couldn’t risk taking the main road at any point of his ride. His only option was to try and beat the White Coats to Charlottesville through the dark, overgrown Virginia backwoods.

In a quote by Virginia Dabney, the difficult obstacles that lay before Jouett were described in eye-opening detail:

“The unfrequented pathway over which this horseman set out on his all-night journey can only be imagined. His progress was greatly impeded by matted undergrowth, tangled bush, overhanging vines and gullies…his face was cruelly lashed by tree limbs as he rode forward and scars said to have remained the rest of his life were the result of lacerations sustained from these low-hanging branches.”

Photo Finish

Though seemingly insurmountable obstacles lay before Jouett, his determination edged him out over the White Coats. He made it to Jefferson’s Monticello home just as the dawn light painted the Virginia landscape. By the time Jefferson and the few Virginia legislators staying at his home made it out, the White Coats weren’t far behind. Once Jouett had alerted Jefferson, he mounted his horse again—bruised, bloody, and exhausted—and rode into Charlottesville to alert the rest of the Virginia Assemblymen.

In 1926, 145 years later, Stuart G. Gibbony, President of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, laid to rest any qualms about the significance of Jouett’s historic ride to Charlottesville:

“But for captain Jack Jouett’s heroic ride, there would have been no Yorktown and the Revolutionists would have been only unsuccessful rebels.”

Jouett was truly a man of honor who was motivated by a cause greater than himself. When opportunity came knocking, he gave it everything he had.

Sometimes we have the choice to ride through metaphorical, overgrown backwoods or to go back to sleep. If we choose the road less traveled, and do it for a cause greater than ourselves, we can know that it’s at least worth it to try and possibly fail than to never try at all. I hope we can all take a page from Jouett’s book and live with a little more determination and a little less fear of failure.

You just learned about history, get points for this article on Degreed. You can catch Braden on Twitter. Subscribe to the blog here:

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